Could President Muhammadu Buhari have made a procedural mistake in appointing Hameed Ali, a retired colonel of the Nigerian Army, as the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS)?
This is the question on the minds of many stakeholders as section 3.11:1 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette No 24 Vol. 89 of 25th March 2002 clearly indicates that the choice of the Customs Comptroller-General shall be filled by “appointment of a suitable Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs (General Duty)”.
This guideline is on page 226 of the gazette, which is an administrative publication of established procedures, orders and regulations.
A strict interpretation of the gazette would suggest that Ali was not qualified for the position since he was neither a Customs officer nor a Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs.
Ali’s appointment may have been prompted by President Buhari’s strong desire to clean up the NCS which is considered to be one of the most corrupt government agencies in the country.
SHIPS & PORTS DAILY gathered from usually reliable source that Ali’s appointment was necessitated by security reports which did not favour some of the senior officers originally considered for the Customs top job.
It would be recalled that in the past, especially under past military regimes, outsiders were appointment at different times to head Customs.
Shehu Musa, a career civil servant, was appointed Director of the Department of Customs and Excise in 1975 by late General Murtala Muhammed to reform the structure inherited from the colonial government. Musa later served as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in the second republic.
Haliru Bello Mohammed, a veterinary doctor, was in the Ministry of Internal Affairs when he was seconded to Customs as a Director in 1989 by the government of General Ibrahim Babangida. At the time, Customs, Immigrations and Prisons were one unit under the Internal Affairs Ministry.
In 1990, after the three services were unbundled, Mohammed was appointed the first Comptroller-General of Customs. He later became a Minister and acting Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the fourth republic.
In 1993, a serving Army officer, Samuel Ango, then a Brigadier-General, was appointed Sole Administrator of NCS by the administration of late General Sani Abacha.
Ango held the position until February 1999 when General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s government appointed Aliyu Ahmed Mustapha, a serving Customs officer, as the Comptroller-General.
However, these instances were long before President Olusegun Obasanjo issued the administrative order in 2002 which was gazetted, thereby giving it a procedural authority. Since then, successive Customs Comptroller-Generals have been appointed from within the service.
Maritime industry stakeholders are divided over the propriety of Ali’s appointment.
The Chairman of Nigerian Ports Consultative Council, Otunba Kunle Folarin said there was nothing wrong with having a retired colonel as the Customs Comptroller-General if officers will support and help him deliver on his mandate.
“What have we gained from those who are insiders? Have they succeeded in the single window project? If we have an insider who comes to deliver zero, is it better? We need performance and those who will focus on different areas and not just a single area of generating revenue.
“This is not the first time a military man is occupying that position. At this point in time, stakeholders are worried about processes not about personality. Over the years, what has been the focus of the personalities appointed? If he can deliver why not, revenue generation should be a mandate but not the entire focus,” Folarin said.
On his part, President of Shippers Association of Lagos State, Jonathan Nicol said the President’s choice should be respected as he has the rights to appoint anyone he deems fit as Customs Comptroller-General but the National Publicity Secretary, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agent (ANLCA), Kayode Farinto expressed disappointment over the appointment of Ibrahim Ali as the new customs boss, describing it as a backward step.
“With this appointment, we are going 1,000 steps backward. Are they saying that there are no officers capable of being appointed as customs CG even among the Deputy Comptroller Generals or Comptrollers? If you look at the profile of this man, he is the one who sacked over 30, 000 workers as an administrator in Kaduna.
“So whoever must have advised the President has not helped us at all. It is most unfortunate that they are taking us back to the military era. How will the international community see us? This man does not know anything about trade facilitation or Customs operation,” he said.
Deputy National President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Barrister Fred Akokhia also expressed reservations about the appointment.
He said, “How will a military man who has left the service for over 20 years be asked to come and head a paramilitary agency like Customs?
“They have appointed a military officer sometimes ago but it did not work so to me I don’t think this decision was well thought out.”
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